Richard the Lionheart was the second Angevin king of England. He was the son of Henry II and his incredibly powerful and resourceful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Before becoming king he was immersed in various attempts to overthrow his father while as king, he spent most of his reign on crusade.
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Richard the Lionheart – hero or war criminal?
To later generations – especially the Victorians – Richard the Lionheart was a dashing English crusader. You can still see a valiant statue of him outside parliament today with his sword held high. But in recent years, his reputation has taken a bit of a drubbing.
The seeds for his reputation getting trashed were sewn in his own lifetime. While the Saracen leader Saladin might undoubtedly have respected his military prowess, he would also have been shocked by his disregard for the lives of captured Muslim soldiers.
According to Beha Ed-Din, a muslim chronicler, Richard the Lionheart pretty much broke the medieval equivalent of the Geneva Convention by slaughtering a huge number of captives during the Third Crusade.
Richard reveals a decidedly mean and bloody streak
Richard arrived in the Holy Land to find Saladin in charge of all the major cities including Jerusalem. The once proud crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had been reduced to a shadow of its former glory.
The ruthless king was set on reversing the crusader’s bad luck. He marshalled his troops, put himself in the front line and was the epitome of a Christian warrior. In no time, he took back the city of Acre (modern Akko). While doing this, he bagged just under three thousand captives.
True Cross or mass murder – choice given to the Saracens
The ransom for sparing their lives was 200,000 gold pieces, 1500 crusaders to be released and the return of the Lignum Crucis – the True Cross. Various wrangles then ensued between the two days and losing his patience, Richard decided to make his intentions very plain to the Saracens. He gave the order for, essentially, mass murder.
As the chronicler explained:
The Franks then flung themselves upon them all at once and massacred them with sword and lance in cold blood. Our advanced guard had already told the Sultan of the enemy’s movements and he sent it some reinforcements, but only after the massacre. The Muslims, seeing what was being done to the prisoners, rushed against the Franks and in the combat, which lasted till nightfall, several were slain and wounded on either side. On the morrow morning our people gathered at the spot and found the Muslims stretched out upon the ground as martyrs for the faith. They even recognised some of the dead, and the sight was a great affliction to them. The enemy had only spared the prisoners of note and such as were strong enough to work.